Lecture, Oct. 18, 2018 “The Erotic Importance of the Van Buskirk Diaries to the Histories of Art, Literature, and Sexuality”

Matthew KnipJoin us for a lecture by
Matthew Knip

October 18, 2018
3:00 – 4:30 pm
Allen Library Auditorium (ground floor Allen Library North)
University of Washington Suzzallo/Allen Libraries

The Erotic Importance of the Van Buskirk Diaries to the Histories of Art, Literature, and Sexuality

van buskirk imageMatthew Knip will discuss the importance of the Philip C. Van Buskirk diaries—housed in the Pacific Northwest Collection of the University of Washington Libraries Special Collection—to nineteenth century art, literary, and cultural criticism. Knip’s talk will scrutinize the homosocial and homoerotic subculture detailed in the diaries and outline the literary and artistic challenges this previously overlooked and misunderstood cultural world presents to a constellation of commonly-held critical assumptions about the nineteenth century, from authorship, privacy, and friendship to sexuality and identity.


Matthew Knip is a doctoral candidate in English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and an adjunct instructor at Hunter College. His dissertation, Before Melville’s Masts: Sex in the Age of Sail, examines diverse sexual cultures Herman Melville experienced at sea and how these might inform the way we read his fiction. As a component of his research, he created a digital archive of the Philip C. Van Buskirk diaries from 1852 through 1858, including transcriptions of each entry. His essay “Homosocial Desire and Erotic Communitas in Melville’s Imaginary: The Evidence of Van Buskirk,” published in ESQ 62:2 (2016) won the 2017 Hennig Cohen Prize of the Melville Society for best article, book chapter, or essay on Herman Melville.

More about the significance of the Van Buskirk diaries

Between 1850 and 1903, Philip C. Van Buskirk composed more than three dozen volumes of a confessional diary that has the potential to powerfully reshape assumptions within art, literary, and cultural criticism of the nineteenth century. Historian B. R. Burg suggests the journals represent “the most extensive record of introspection ever kept by an American.” Van Buskirk recorded in his journals the everyday happenings that affected him personally. Less interested in the great political and military events that he witnessed firsthand—the Perry Expedition to Japan and the American Civil War, for instance—he outlined the moral and spiritual failings he identified in himself and others, with self-deprecating sincerity and confessional detail. By doing so, he quite unintentionally produced a remarkable, thick description of the homosocial organization of desire he (and Herman Melville) experienced among working-class sailors at sea. He opens a window into a previously overlooked and misunderstood world that existed before the emergence of modern sexuality, which interpellates subjects into identities that coalesce around object choice.

The lecture is free and open to the public.